Impact Profile: Katie Herzog

An image of Katie Herzog standing in front of a wall of photos

Katie Herzog found California FarmLink several years ago when searching for options to help her extended family explore succession planning for their historic ranch in San Ardo, located along Highway 101 in southern Monterey County. Katie is an artist, Girl Scout troop leader, and farmer at Reverie Ranch, located in Parkfield, tucked amongst the Cholame Hills east of San Ardo, in a landscape that continues to be shaped by the San Andreas Fault.

Most recently, she completed one of FarmLink’s educational courses to focus on how to position her ranch both as a stable business enterprise, where she’s growing 16 varieties of agave, while creating  community impacts inspired in part by her family story.

Building on a Unique Family History

Katie’s family story is a uniquely Californian tale. More than 150 years ago, her ancestors became the first Jewish ranch owners in Monterey County. Today she and several family members co-own the historic Rosenberg Family Ranch, growing walnuts in San Ardo. “My ancestors came over from Germany during the Gold Rush and ended up in San Francisco selling beef wholesale.” she explained, “In Germany, they were cattle traders.”

From the Middle Ages until the 1930s, cattle trading was a common vocation for Jews in Germany, in part because Jews were not allowed to own farmland. After the Nazis took power in 1933, Jews were not allowed to hold public office, nor any public position such as teaching, and were increasingly excluded from many other vocations and financial institutions. Despite centuries of interdependence among Jewish cattle traders and non-Jewish farmers, the Nazis dismantled those trade relationships as one of their first acts of economic exclusion against Jews. Katie’s ancestors spoke a Jewish cattle trader’s jargon, a now-extinct language called Lekoudesch, which was violently suppressed by the Nazis as an additional means to disrupt and exclude the Jewish community.

With their experience in the beef trade, it was logical to meet burgeoning Gold Rush era demand for fresh beef by selling wholesale beef in San Francisco. The family’s success with that business led to what may be one of the earliest examples of vertical integration in California agriculture: in 1871, her great-great-great grandfather, Meyer Brandenstein, purchased a large ranch in southern Monterey County to produce and source cattle. The unincorporated town, called San Bernardo (now San Ardo) was established by Mr. Brandenstein in 1886. Crucially it had a stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad, from which cattle were shipped to San Francisco. Part of Katie’s family history is captured in a transcript of an interview with Margaret Barbree Rosenberg, recorded in the early 1980s and archived at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. The Rosenberg Family Ranch was, at the time, “one of the few Mexican California land grants to remain almost intact to this day.” In addition to beef cattle, the family produced numerous crops and products over more than 150 years.

Contributing and Shaping the Future of her Community

With deep family roots in San Ardo, and her role as a 6th-generation partial owner of the historic ranch, Katie is embracing the opportunity to make an impact in the (relatively) nearby rural community of Parkfield. Her actions have included directing her family’s annual giving tradition to FarmLink one year, purchasing a FarmLink Investment Note to support our loan fund, starting a rural Girl Scout troop and more. “Most girls in Parkfield are in my troop,” she shared, “It's a multi-age troop because we just don't have that many people.” She has also worked with and served on the board of Monterey County Free Libraries in rural “South County.

Over the first two years of growing agave, she’s been using data loggers to track temperatures and monitoring each variety’s success in her micro-climate. And she’s already expanding, using the “pups” produced by the plants to start new ones, knowing that it will take up to 10 years for the successful varieties to produce sizable piñas ready for harvest.

“As somebody who has privilege and access to land, with the desire for equitable practices,” Katie explained, “...that’s what brought me to FarmLink.” In addition to what she learned about farm succession and land access, and her choice to make an impact investment, she completed our Resilerator ® course in January.

Values in Action

While chatting at the Rosenberg Family Ranch, Katie explained, “I want my life's work to have an impact in the field of social and environmental justice. Monterey County has a shocking amount of inequity and segregation. I have seen it as a library worker, as a parent of elementary school aged kids, as a landowner, as a white person.” She shared an episode when a white woman expressed how things used to be in a local public library, lamenting that in the past the libraries were spaces for white people and now that things had changed; she no longer felt comfortable stepping foot in libraries.

Katie’s involvement in local agriculture, and as a landowner, is rooted in her goal for the ranch to expand opportunity. Much of her focus in The Resilerator was how to most effectively share resources – land and water – with others. The course also supported her growth as a farmer by learning from other farmers. “I'm really trying to build community,” she explained, “and provide access to land in different ways. I'm interested in what you're doing as an organization, and I want to support it.”

Impact, Stewardship and Art

Katie is mobilizing resources for her community by deepening her business knowledge and creating opportunities for healing and stewardship. “Something that I think is really exciting is how we are beginning to learn about how cattle can regenerate soil, and that’s something I care about deeply,” Katie explained, “It’s building on my family’s ranching legacy.” She’s also participated in a course organized by the Healing and Reconciliation Institute, which works to facilitate reconciliation and trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, to deepen her perspective on land and community.

We invite you to learn more about Katie and her artwork at Recent exhibitions include the Mexicali Biennial “Land of Milk and Honey” at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, showcasing artwork about Immigration and Agriculture in the Salinas Valley. Her forthcoming solo exhibition at the Monterey Museum of Art Currents Gallery opening in January 2024 will include a series of paintings inspired by Lekoudesch and her family history in Monterey County.

We’re grateful for Katie being part of our work and attending the Resilerator as a way to strengthen her knowledge and ability to make an impact in her community.

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